William Dunlop (1936-2005)

A quick reminder, that if you want to take part in the drawing for the Big Poetry Giveaway at this blogsite, you need to comment here (the post from April 13). Visit Kelli Russell Agodon’s blog for more opportunities. Happy National Poetry Month! I hope you’re writing!

In addition to being a fine poet, William Dunlop was my professor when I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington, and trying my hand at Victorian studies. What I remember best about him is how he would lean against the chalk tray on the blackboard and get chalkdust all over the back of his tweed jacket. I also remember him peering out the window at anti-war protesters in the quad below, and saying, in his British accent, “Ah, it makes me miss the dear, dead days.” (I presumed he meant the sixties, but who knows?) I remember that when we studied Thomas Hardy, he made us read the poems, too. I also remember that when the class thought he was reading aloud the first chapter of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, I noticed that he wasn’t turning the pages and was actually reciting from memory.

So here is a poem from his book, Caruso for the Children & Other Poems, published by Rose Alley Press in 1997.

FINAL DIRECTIONS

I hate a tended grave. Save me a place
to go to seed in, growing so absorbed
some craft beyond a common practice shapes
my plot and has me, breathless, utter
what comes most natural. There’s a point
where skillful trimming is the work of hacks:
death should be one word no-one can compose
neat settings for. With life ruled out at last
it’s time to wax romantic, and go dead.

If there’s a stone, I want that soon to sag,
lurch in the fetters ivy loops about it,
relinquish all distinction. I trust the various weather,
lichen, and snail make epitaph a cipher,
and name a blank. I hope the fat
swags of rank grass, weeds bogged in succulence
thrive on what contributions I submit
to snag and ramble: let extravagance
brag in green garbled tongues that they compound
and bring to light what I could not account for:
slips of the tongue, jetsam of dreams, stray tags
of nonsense rhymes, the potpourri of fancies
a lifetime’s editing rightly rejected.

I want my bones’ allotment to run mad: that small
cloudburst of wilderness tell the passer-by
no more of me than, when I came to die,
confusion was my style: I lost control.

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